RTE broadcaster Damian Lawlor has a really good new book out. It’s called When The World Stops Watching, and it details the different ways in which many professional or semi-professional athletes have dealt with retirement.
From Niall Quinn to Sonia O’Sullivan, from Donncha O’Callaghan to Paul Carberry, each had their own difficulties with the transition to becoming an ex-athlete.
Because all sorts of things are tied up here. Identity, self-esteem, financial stability, physical appearance, health and fitness. Really important things when it comes to feeling OK about yourself. And when you have been at the top, earning good money, everyone wanting to say hello to you, experiencing the buzz of the big days, it’s not always easy to lose all that, especially if it happens suddenly.
Make a plan, they say. Any of these athletes who got advice before retiring were told this. A plan will get you through the first, often tricky years.
But often the plan doesn’t work. And a year or 18 months later they are back to square one. Because the problem is – having a plan usually isn’t enough. Making a plan is straightforward, but it won’t be any use to you unless you have done the more difficult work of figuring out the specific area in which you need to make the plan.
What is your purpose? What are you passionate about? What are your priorities? Difficult questions, but questions that require some serious thought if you want to make the best possible decision for yourself.
I was lucky. I gave up county football at the age of 28, and while it wasn’t straightforward, it was made easier by the fact that I had already discovered something that I knew excited me just as much if not more so than playing football.
But I didn’t always know this. I was 25 before I decided to try being a full-time musician. And so I went through plenty of years of not knowing what I wanted to do. Going to career guidance counsellors, chatting to family and friends, but not being able to come up with any answers. And I possibly knew deep down that music was it for me, but I was scared to try it because I didn’t know how to make a living from it.
But once I decided to go for it regardless, the plans started to work. Put an ad in the Sligo Weekender for some students, ask Bingo in The Strand for a gig. That’s how it started. And here I am 15 years later still making plans, but I know they have a better chance of coming to fruition because they are allied with this purpose I have been lucky enough to discover.
So make your plans, sure. You won’t get too far without them. But don’t fool yourself that they are the most important part.
Column 16 for The Sligo Weekender. Published 17 December 2020.
PS here’s a video for ‘The Match’ – a tune I wrote with this week’s podcast guest Steve Wickham in 2013. With special footage that any Sligo GAA fan will enjoy…